Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.

Sound Bites: Fiona Murphy

by BRIAN KELLOW

Sound Bites Murphy hdl 712
Photographed in Dublin by Patrick Redmond
Makeup and hair by Val Sherlock
© Patrick Redmond 2012
Sound Bites Murphy sm 712
© Patrick Redmond 2012

Fiona Murphy had been singing Carmen successfully for a number of years when she performed her last one in June 2010 at Lismore Opera Festival. It wasn't just a matter of dropping a role; she was making an even wider turn, into the soprano repertory. "I was always a high lyric mezzo-soprano in terms of range," she says. "The core of the voice settled up rather than down. I did a bit of exploratory stuff with myself and my coaches. You always have to listen to your voice, if you're going to be true to your own singing." 

Born in Dublin, Murphy studied there at University College and later got her master's at the Curtis Institute, where her teachers were Joan Patenaude-Yarnell and Marlena Malas. She was also a member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio; her roles with the company included Zerlina and the Fox in Rachel Portman's The Little Prince. She considers herself lucky in her training. Patenaude-Yarnell and Malas, she says, "teach a healthy technique. Everything is lyric and secure, not pushed. When I began working on the extension, I just did what I had been doing, just singing in a different space and getting used to it. Ironically, I found that in a lot of the soprano repertoire, the tessitura is lower than some of the high mezzo roles — Idamante or Annio." 

Murphy is easily one of the most beautiful women appearing on the opera stage today. She radiates unforced charm, and you find yourself wanting to like her before she even opens her mouth. Once she does, she delivers. At her winning recital at the 2011 Wexford Festival, she was dramatically present without ever overstating a single moment; her connections all seemed impeccably right. (Among her selections was a group of songs by Thomas Moore, the Irish poet/songwriter whose mother had roots in Wexford.) "In recital, I have tended to put the pieces together by theme," she says. "It might be as simple as wanting to do a particular song and then finding other songs with similar themes. I do like to have a real arc that leaves the audience feeling a certain way."

In March, Murphy received excellent reviews as the psychologically unstrung Governess in a new Oliver Mears production of The Turn of the Screw at Opera Northern Ireland. This month she reprises the role at England's Buxton Festival. Also this summer, Murphy covers Musetta at the Glyndebourne Festival, and she has her eye on Mimì, Liù and — after so many Carmens — Micaela. "The change has kept everything fresh and exciting," she says. "Everything is new now — which is brilliant." spacer 

BRIAN KELLOW

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Current Issue: October 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 4